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Hairsplitting Minutiae and a Question for You

There’s a comment from Kane Augustus on the last theological term post and I’ve decided to respond to it in a post.

When I was in Bible College and Seminary, I really enjoyed all the differences, shades, hues, and hair-splitting in theology. Now I wonder at it all: what’s the point of it?

First of all, this question seems to assume that differences in theology are “hairsplitting.” I would disagree. The differences—at least the ones that usually come up in the Theological Term of the Week posts—are more important than that. Here’s the thing about theological “minutiae”: they fit together to form a system. If we change what we believe on one detail, our whole system tends to change over time to make all our beliefs more consistent. Kind of like the “butterfly flapping his wings in Asia” thing. That means that what we may see as trivial or unimportant because we don’t see the whole picture at once, might, in the end, change the whole picture.

This is not to say that everyone needs to be as interested in the details of theology as I am. God gifts people differently and gives them different interests.

But it is right to value theology, because at its core, theology is about knowing God by studying what he is and who he is. For instance, in the post where you left your comment, the issue in question is what God purposed to accomplish in Christ’s death and what he actually accomplished in it. Answering those questions helps us know more about God himself and his work in our world. Wrestling with those questions is about valuing God himself by valuing knowledge about him. It’s about “loving God with all our minds” which is, after all, part of the first and greatest commandment.

Isn’t a personal confession enough?

I’m not sure exactly what you mean by personal confession. But I can say this: Confession is acknowledging something to be true. Whether by personal confession you mean acknowledging something about ourselves or acknowledging something about God, it involves theology. Underneath our personal confessions are answers to the questions, “Who am I, as a human being, before God?” and “Who and what is God that I should confess something to—or about—him?”

So, how do the minutiae in theology benefit, or bolster your life?

There’s an assumption behind this question, too, and it’s that the ultimate purpose of theology is to benefit or bolster our own lives.  But isn’t the ultimate purpose of theology to give God honor by studying him and his work? It’s not  that studying theology doesn’t benefit us, but that our benefit is not the ultimate reason to do it. The ultimate reason for studying the details of theology is the same as what should be the ultimate reason for everything we do: Giving God glory.

That said, I’d say one of the personal benefit of studying God and his works is that it builds my faith in God and his promises. And I’m sure there are other personal benefits as well, but rather than listing them myself, I’d like to ask the readers of this blog: How do you benefit from studying the details of theology?


Thankful Thursday

I’m thankful

  • that God’s timing is perfect.
  • that we’ve made it to March and spring is just around the corner. (Of course, just around the corner means different things in different places.)
  • for manly men with tender hearts.
  • for photos.

Throughout this year I’m planning to post a few thoughts of thanksgiving each Thursday along with Kim at the Upward Call and others.


Round the Sphere Again: This and That

No Substitutes
Why you really need to use beer in your Beer Batter Fried Halibut. (Scientific American)

Listen to Luke
You won’t be disappointed, I promise. (He Lives)


A Sad Story

Yesterday we lost our golden retreiver. She became ill suddenly and the vet found a mass in her abdomen. There were treatment possibilities, but none with a promising outcome.

In memory of Taffy, I’m reposting a story about her that I wrote back in 2004. It was called, ironically, A Dog Story with a Happy Ending.

This week we discovered that our dog is a retriever. Of course, we knew when we bought her that her official title included the word, but she failed to live up to the promise of her name. She thought fetching was boring after a toss or two, but what she hated most of all was going into water any deeper than her knees.

Every summer before this, we have tried to coax her to swim with us. She knew it looked like fun, and she really wanted to be out there with the gang, so she would make a half-hearted attempt to join us, but as soon as the water touched her belly, she would turn around again and slink back to the shore. We tried gentle coaxing with sticks, throwing them out into the water for her to retrieve, but she was already an unenthusiatic fetcher, so she had no qualms about leaving a stick floating if fetching it required more than a little shallow wading.

Once the boys took turns carrying her out with them into deep water and then letting her go. She proved that she was a strong and competent swimmer, as long as the swimming was straight toward the shoreline. As soon as she reached the beach, she’d slink off to the bushes, crouching low, hoping to remain out of sight so she could avoid that happening again.

Friday night, the youngest son and I took her for a walk on the Miles Canyon trail. When we got to the little pool along the edge the river that is good for swimming, my son tossed a stick just a few feet from the bank. I’m sure it looked like a simple enough fetch to the dog, so she jumped quite willingly into the river after the stick. What she didn’t know is that the bank drops off steeply in that place, and there is no wading. Once you’re in, it’s swim or die. Somewhere in those first few seconds of instinctive paddling, she discovered that she likes swimming. Maybe she loves swimming. Out she swam to the stick, and then round and back to the bank. Again and again, round and round, eager for more when we grew tired.

Last night we took her with us to Long Lake. She ran down ahead of us to the beach, and then out into the water to try to retrieve what she thought was a stick but turned out to be the branch of a dead tree lying just under the surface of the water. There were three of us, and we tossed sticks until we all grew tired.

After we stopped tossing, she jumped in to swim out and greet some canoers paddling by. We had to call her back before she got close to them, since nothing makes paddlers more nervous than an enthusiastic dog swimming toward them.

After three summers coaxing, we suddenly have a retriever.


Theological Term of the Week


A system of theology introduced by Moise Amyraut, in which the Calvinist doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints are affirmed, along with (contrary to Calvinism) the teaching that Christ died savingly for all people, making salvation hypothetically possible for all, while only the elect are brought to faith and actually saved; sometimes called Amyraldianism, hypothetical redemption, hypothetical universalism, or four-point Calvinism. 

  • Scripture that argues against Amyraldism:
    He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32 ESV)
  • From Systematic Theology by Charles Hodge:

    The Scriptures further teach that the gift of Christ secures the gift of all other saving blessings. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. viii 32.) Hence they are certainly saved for whom God delivered up his Son. The elect only are saved, and therefore He was delivered up specially for them, and consequently election must precede redemption. The relation, therefore, of redemption to election is as clearly determined by the nature of redemption as the relation of the sun to the planets is determined by the nature of the sun.

  • From the Canons of Dordt (ruling Amyraldism out):
    The Second Main Point of Doctrine

    Christ’s Death and Human Redemption Through It

    Article 8: The Saving Effectiveness of Christ’s Death

    For it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son’s costly death should work itself out in all his chosen ones, in order that he might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words, it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father; that he should grant them faith (which, like the Holy Spirit’s other saving gifts, he acquired for them by his death); that he should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith; that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle.

  • From B. B. Warfield on Amyraldism, or, as he also calls it, Post-redemptionism, quoted from The Plan of Salvation:

    Post-redemptionism, therefore (although it is a recognizable form of Calvinism, because it gives real validity to the principle of particularism), is not therefore necessarily a good form of Calvinism, an acceptable form of Calvinism, or even a tenable form of Calvinism. For one thing, it is a logically inconsistent form of Calvinism and therefore an unstable form of Calvinism. For another and far more important thing, it turns away from the substitutive atonement, which is as precious to the Calvinist as is his particularism, and for the safeguarding of which, indeed, much of his zeal for particularism is due. I say, Post-redemptionism is logically inconsistent Calvinism. For, how is it possible to contend that God gave his Son to die for all men, alike and equally; and at the same time to declare that when he gave his Son to die, he already fully intended that his death should not avail for all men alike and equally, but only for some which he would select (which, that is, because he is God and there is no subsequence of time in his decrees, he had already selected) to be its beneficiaries? But as much as God is God, who knows all things which he intends from the beginning and all at once, and intends all things which he intends from the beginning and all at once, it is impossible to contend that God intends the gift of his Son for all men alike and equally and at the same time intends that it shall not actually save all but only a select body which he himself provides for it. The schematization of the order of decrees presented by the Amyraldians, in a word, necessarily implies a chronological relation of precedence and subsequence among the decrees, the assumption of which abolishes God, and this can be escaped only by altering the nature of the atonement. And therefore the nature of the atonement is altered by them, and Christianity is wounded at its very heart.

    The Amyraldians “point with pride” to the purity of their confession of the doctrine of election, and wish to focus attention upon it as constituting them good Calvinists. But the real hinge of their system turns on their altered doctrine of the atonement, and here they strike at the very heart of Calvinism. A conditional substitution being an absurdity, because the condition is no condition to God, if you grant him even so much as the poor attribute of foreknowledge, they necessarily turn away from a substitutive atonement altogether. Christ did not die in the sinner’s stead, it seems, to bear his penalties and purchase for him eternal life; he died rather to make the salvation of sinners possible, to open the way of salvation to sinners, to remove all the obstacles in the way of salvation of sinners. But what obstacle stands in the way of the salvation of sinners, except just their sin? And if this obstacle (their sin) is removed, are they not saved? Some other obstacles must be invented, therefore, which Christ may be said to have removed (since he cannot be said to have removed the obstacle of sin) that some function may be left to him and some kind of effect be attributed to his sacrificial death. He did not remove the obstacle of sin, for then all those for whom he died must be saved, and he cannot be allowed to have saved anyone. He removed, then, let us say, all that prevented God from saving men, except sin; and so he prepared the way for God to step in and with safety to his moral government to save men. The atonement lays no foundation for this saving of men: it merely opens the way for God safely to save them on other grounds.

Learn more:

  1. Theopedia: Amyraldism
  2. Sam Storms: Amyraldian Controversy
  3. Martyn J. McGeown: A Critical Examination of the Amyraldian View of the Atonement
  4. Rev. Angus Stewart: Amyraldianism and the Formula Consensus Helvetica (1674)
  5. Curt Daniel: Amyraldism (mp3)

Related terms:

Do you have a a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.